Genetical Research

Research Article

Mutation-selection balance and the evolutionary advantage of sex and recombination

Brian Charleswortha1

a1 Department of Ecology and Evolution, The University of Chicago, 1103 E. 57th St, Chicago, IL 60637, USA

Summary

Mutation-selection balance in a multi-locus system is investigated theoretically, using a modification of Bulmer's infinitesimal model of selection on a normally-distributed quantitative character, taking the number of mutations per individual (n) to represent the character value. The logarithm of the fitness of an individual with n mutations is assumed to be a quadratic, decreasing function of n. The equilibrium properties of infinitely large asexual populations, random-mating populations lacking genetic recombination, and random-mating populations with arbitrary recombination frequencies are investigated. With ‘synergistic’ epistasis on the scale of log fitness, such that log fitness declines more steeply as n increases, it is shown that equilibrium mean fitness is least for asexual populations. In sexual populations, mean fitness increases with the number of chromosomes and with the map length per chromosome. With ‘diminishing returns’ epistasis, such that log fitness declines less steeply as n increases, mean fitness behaves in the opposite way. Selection on asexual variants and genes affecting the rate of genetic recombination in random-mating populations was also studied. With synergistic epistasis, zero recombination always appears to be disfavoured, but free recombination is disfavoured when the mutation rate per genome is sufficiently small, leading to evolutionary stability of maps of intermediate length. With synergistic epistasis, an asexual mutant is unlikely to invade a sexual population if the mutation rate per diploid genome greatly exceeds unity. Recombination is selectively disadvantageous when there is diminishing returns epistasis. These results are compared with the results of previous theoretical studies of this problem, and with experimental data.

(Received November 21 1989)

(Revised February 14 1990)

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